I’m a car guy, not a golf guy. You won’t catch me with a putter in hand unless it’s on a miniature golf course. And golf carts? I have cars smaller than them.
We see signs for “Golf Cart Friendly Road” and “Golf Cart Friendly Community” in many Florida downtowns and small towns, including our own. In some of the larger retirement complexes, we see custom golf carts tricked out to look like Hummers, 1957 Chevys, or even with a Rolls Royce grill.
I’d rather drive a vintage car or a motorcycle. So I never gave much thought to golf carts as transportation. But when we checked in to the Anchor Inn, our accommodations on South Bass Island, there they were. Across the street.
And here I was. Without a car.
Since we had a ride arranged to the hotel, we’d left our car parked on Catawba Island. It cost a lot more to take a car across to Put-in-Bay than to be a passenger in a van, and we figured the island was small enough that we wouldn’t need it. It turned out to be larger than we expected. That didn’t bother Sandy, who struck off on a hike, but I needed wheels.
A chilly morning on a bicycle, or a spin in a golf cart?
After signing a few forms and handing over my drivers license to the Put-in-Bay Golf Cart Depot, I was off.
The sum total of operation included a steering wheel and a brake, an accelerator pedal, turn signal, and a two position switch. Forward and Reverse. What’s superfluous on a golf cart? For starters, a speedometer. No windshield wipers, either. Good thing it wasn’t raining.
It also wasn’t busy. We’d arrived a week before Memorial Day weekend. Many residents hadn’t returned for the summer yet, and it was still a bit brisk for visitors. Like us, most visitors don’t bring their cars over to the island.
I hadn’t driven far before reaching the island’s churches, built across from one another. On a Sunday morning, they had a fair number of cars in their lots.
In the parking lot of the Mother of Sorrows Catholic Church sat a beautiful Ford Model T speedster, bright red and polished brass. Model Ts are not the kind of vehicle that you normally see in any parking lot. They have wood spoked wheels and questionable brakes.
I swung into the lot to take a closer look before realizing it would be easier to use the reverse switch to back up and see the Model T.
It’s not second nature for me to drive a golf cart, or a Model T for that matter. They take a bit of getting used to. There is no gas pedal or gear shift, just three pedals on the floor and two levers on the steering wheel.
Atop the Caves
Heading up Catawba Avenue, I passed Heineman’s Winery and Perry’s Cave. We’d visited both the bay before while taking the tour train around the island. At Heineman’s, we toured Crystal Cave. I’d never walked into a geode before, but that’s what it is: a giant geode in a cave under the winery.
Ed Heineman, the fourth-generation owner of the property, led us down into the cave. His son Dustin kept the tasting room going with wine and cheese.
The geode was fascinating. I’d never seen anything like it before. Ed said there is another one on another island nearby, but this is the only one you can tour. It was discovered in 1897 when the workers went to dig a well for the winery. The family opened it up as a tourist attraction and it’s drawn a steady stream of curious visitors since.
Across the street is Perry’s Cave. There used to be a whole cluster of cave tours on this high ground on the island, but these are the only two left. While Sandy went on the cave tour, I wanted to know more about the vintage cars mentioned on the Perry’s Cave website.
I vaguely remembered that the island had a history with early automobiles, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. I had read that there were vintage cars on the island, and that in season it was common to have them participate in a parade every Sunday.
When I asked at the ticket booth, they told me the car museum was closed. A voice piped up behind me.
“I can probably make that happen.”
It was our tour train driver, Chip. I couldn’t help but notice he’d been driving us around using a bright orange vintage AMC (American Motors Corporation) Jeep to pull the tram cars.
An Amazing Auto Collection
As he unlocked the building of cool vintage cars, I learned that Chip was the son of Skip Duggan, who started Perry’s Cave Family Fun Center. Chip and his sister DeeDee now run the complex along with Island Transportation.
This was their dad’s personal car collection. It hasn’t been on display much since his fathers death. Stepping inside I was in old car guy heaven.
It’s rare when we visit local shows at home to see any real vintage vehicles. Most are cars and street rods are from the 50s and 60s, and more recently the 70s and 80s. Every once in a while we might see a Model A or other vehicle from the twenties or thirties, but it has become a rare sighting.
As the lights of the building grew bright, I found myself face to face with some really old and cool cars and vehicles. Just inside the door, a Model A taxi cab was parked. Across from it, a 1919 Dodge touring car. Next to it, a 1930 blue and black Chrysler coupe that had never left the island since its arrival. Then the Model T collection.
Model Ts are officially the “Car of the Century” for a very good reason. This collection shows off some of the reasons for this distinction. It starts with the oldest car on the island, a 1915 T Speedster, very similar to the speedster that I noticed in the church parking lot. With its wooden wheels, brass radiator, lamps and trim, it was quite the sporty ride in its time.
Parked beside it was a rare 1920 center door T, and a Model T pick up truck convertible. Two more of the vehicles are part of the heritage that helped make the Ford Model T the Car of the Century: a 1924 Model T snowmobile and 1926 Model T tractor. The Model T was known as the vehicle that could plow your fields during the week and take you to church on Sunday. Okay, it wasn’t that quite that easy, but conversions were quite common at the time.
Most of the collection are old Fords. It was a rare treat to also see a beautifully restored Nash and a Willy’s Touting car. Vintage signs, old bicycles, old motors, and even a couple of Cushman scooters rounded out the collection.
I hope the family is able to refurbish the museum and reopen it. For car collectors, the trip to Put-in-Bay to visit this collection will be well worth it.
Back to School
As I puttered past Perry’s, I stopped to admire vintage homes and buildings that we’d seen on the tram tour. Then I ventured into the rest of the neighborhoods. They were made up of simple homes, ones that have probably been in the family for generations.
I noticed a sign on a small building. “First School House.”
I could see a home behind the building and a single driveway past the school to it. Not wanting to park in the yard I backed into the driveway and called out to a fellow in the yard. He told me to park and have a look.
But the time I was inside he had joined me and was telling me about the old school. It had been in pretty bad shape and they were talking about knocking it down. He convinced them that he could fix and save it.
It was sitting on his wife’s mother’s property, the house I had seen from the road. Pointing to a class photo on the wall he said that’s my wife’s mom. He told me that the family had allowed him to “marry in” because he had his own tools and knew how to use them.
He jacked the building up and leveled in then replaced the rotten floor. I could tell that he was proud of saving this little piece of the island and his family’s history.
Running out of time, I made a fast trip to Perry’s Monument for a few blue sky photos. We’d had the opportunity to go to the very top the day before – 352 feet above the island – but the skies were gray. This time, I had to stay at ground level.
Off To The Races
On my way back, not far from the Anchor Inn, I came to a historic marker for the historic Put-in-Bay races.
From 1952 to 1959, the island hosted an annual sports car race. Participating cars were small displacement engines under 2000ccs. Marques participating included Alfa Romeo, Cooper, Elva, Lotus, MGs, Porsche, Triumph – and an assortment of home-built vehicles all driven by amateurs.
The races followed the roads of South Bass Island. If you go searching for them, you can find the historic markers. They mark the start and finish line, turn one, four, and five.
Around 2009, the races returned, but in a different format. They no longer follow the roads. Instead, the event is now “two days of low-key racing” on a challenging 1.2-mile circuit around the airport taxiways.
During the race weekend, there are tours of the original course, social events, a car show, stories from the old days, and the kind of fun that can only be found at a vintage racing event.
Traveling by golf cart affords a slower look at everything as you go by. It is faster than walking, but slower than I ride my bike. But life on a small island is meant to be slow. Everybody waved and smiled and the few vehicles that I did run across were patient, never rushing to pass me.
Put-in-Bay is the community that encompasses most of South Bass Island, one of several islands you can see just offshore in Lake Erie from Port Clinton, Lakeside, and Marblehead along the Lake Erie shoreline in northwestern Ohio.
Part of the fun of getting to, and around, Put-in-Bay is leaving your car behind and relying on island transportation. South Bass Island isn’t very large and has very little parking, so the locals definitely appreciate it when you leave it on the mainland.
We took Miller Ferry from Catawba Island to Put-in-Bay. During the shoulder season, it runs hourly. During the summer, on the half hour. In winter, the icy cold makes ferry travel impossible. They usually shut down around Thanksgiving and open again in late March. It takes 20 minutes to cross the straits to the island.
Once you’re on the island, you can take advantage of the Lime Kiln Bus to get you right from the ferryboat to your lodging.
The Tour Train was a great way to get an overview of the entire island. We hopped on and off at several of the attractions, including the Put-in-Bay Winery, Perry’s Cave, and Heineman’s Winery.
While on the island, we stayed at the Anchor Inn, one of the quietest lodgings in town. It’s a short walk from there to nearby eateries, so we caught lunch at the Put-in-Bay Brewery and Distillery one afternoon and dinner watching the sunset over Perry’s Monument at the Upper Deck at the Boardwalk.
It was also a short walk up to Cooper’s Woods, a natural area next to the Catholic Church that Sandy explored while I was touring around in the golf cart.